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When Honda became the 1st Japanese automaker to build cars in Canada

Honda's plan to build a manufacturing facility in Alliston, Ont. in 1984 was welcomed by politicians and the people who lived there.

Automaker formally announced plan to build plant in Alliston, Ont., in June of 1984

Honda to build a Canadian plant

Digital Archives

37 years ago
1:50
In June of 1984, Honda announced it would be building a plant in Alliston, Ont. 1:50

A farm field would be plowed under to make way for a new type of crop that would be harvested year-round in Alliston, Ont.

That crop would be the Honda automobiles the Japanese automaker was planning to build there by the end of the 1980s.

On June 4, 1984, Honda announced it would spend $100 million to establish a manufacturing facility in the town located about 90 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

It would be the first plant operated by a Japanese automaker on Canadian soil. 

Rumours and reaction

The National sent reporter Alison Smith out to Alliston, Ont., to get reaction on Honda's plan to build a new plant in the town. (The National/CBC Archives)

On the day of the announcement, reporter Alison Smith headed out to Alliston for The National to get a sense of how residents felt about Honda's plan, which was expected to lead to hundreds of new jobs.

"This empty field, just outside town, is the site for the new plant," she reported. "The townspeople had heard rumours about it — they're delighted with today's news."

Gary Zieman, a local businessman, didn't see any downside to what was being proposed.

"Generally, it'll be good — it's progress and we like to see progress," Zieman said.

The forthcoming Honda plant was to be built in Alliston, Ont., and it was expected the facility would support hundreds of new jobs. (The National/CBC Archives)

Alliston resident Rita Byl mentioned the reported 350 jobs the plant would create.

"Why wouldn't that be great?" she asked.

Would Canada see 'phenomenal' growth, too?

Federal Trade Minister Ed Lumley hoped that Honda's Canadian plant would see the kind of "phenomenal" growth in operations that its U.S. counterpart had seen. (The National/CBC Archives)

The news was welcomed in Ottawa, where Trade Minister Ed Lumley said the new plant represented a breakthrough.

"The growth that has taken place by Honda in the United States operations has been nothing short of phenomenal," he told reporters at a news conference.

"We're very helpful that we will have the same rapid growth here in Canada, as Honda has undertaken in the U.S.."

The United Auto Workers union had concerns as to whether Honda would have unionized workers at its forthcoming plant, as well as to where the automaker would source its parts from.

Smith said the answers to those questions would not be known for some time. She reported that the automaker did not expect to see cars rolling off the line in Alliston until 1987 at the earliest.

Growth, jobs but no union

Honda plant opens in Alliston in 1986

Digital Archives

35 years ago
2:35
In November of 1986, Honda celebrates as its first Canadian-assembled vehicle rolled off the line at its plant in Alliston, Ont. 2:35

Honda would eventually see its first car roll off the line at the Alliston plant earlier than first reported.

"Politicians, Honda executives and workers were here today to watch the first Japanese car roll off a Canadian assembly line — a Honda assembly line," the CBC's Der Hoi-Yin reported on The National on Nov. 3, 1986.

At that point, Honda had ended up spending $200 million on its plant — or twice its original planned investment.

But as the UAW had worried, Honda had also moved forward with a non-unionized workforce. Der said it was "the first non-union car assembly plant in Canada."

Der said it was projected that Honda would employ 700 workers at its Alliston plant by the following year.

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